Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Records From Canada // Hello Hum

May 12th, 2015 | Features | 0 Comments

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When I was 18, I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a year while attending the University of King’s College.

Back when I was deciding where to go for school, I knew I wasn’t going to leave Toronto for a city with a lame music scene. But Halifax’s scene was legit. I’d be alright there. Not only did the city have a history of producing greats like Eric’s Trip and Sloan, but it was still impressing the rest of Canada with Joel Plaskett, Dog Day, and especially Wintersleep. The latter had just released 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky, their third release but first to really break them out. Some of the album’s songs, like “Archeologist” and “Weighty Ghosts”, have since become minor Canada indie classics.

Wintersleep followed …Night Sky with 2010’s New Inheritors. Apparently it was a critical and commercial success, but I don’t remember hearing about it at the time, and still haven’t really gotten into it. In 2012 they released Hello Hum. I was still in Toronto when it came out but I can’t remember hearing about its release then either. One day this year though, after listening to …Night Sky again, I realized that the band no doubt had other albums that I hadn’t heard, so I searched them up on Spotify and saw the newer two (though their first two weren’t there).

I was drawn to Hello Hum from the get go because of its glacial cover. And then when I pressed play on opener “Hum”, rising out of the silence I heard the eerie, phasing sound of a synth, followed by cavernous, ramshackle drums and cold maritime guitars. Musically, it sounded like the album’s cover: glacial. You could find elements of “Weight Ghost”‘s charming campfire sing-along vibe in “Unzipper”, “Nothing Is Anything (Without You)”, and the chorus of “Resuscitate”. “Archeologist”‘s pin-point ambient attack had lived on in “Rapture”‘s stuttering beat. And then there were the beautiful comes downs: the lonely last call of “Saving Song”; the floating “Someone Somewhere”. “In Came The Flood” is also a great song.

“Hello Hum” may not feel as classic and emblematic of its time and place as “Welcome To The Night Sky”, but overall it’s probably the better album. It’s more interesting and in some way more consistent. But whatever, they’re both great. Listening to it, I remember when I was 18 and my mom and I went to visit Halifax to check the city out before I decided to move there. I remember loving its cold, pleasant seaside feel. The celtic bars with wooden floors. The sloping roads around its antiquated harbour, seemingly unchanged since the time of the great Halifax Explosion. And the city’s odd, sometimes desolate small-town feel, despite being the biggest population hub in the maritime.

After a couple months, I couldn’t stand that desolate feeling anymore and longed to return to the bustle of Toronto. But in the beginning, the cold quiet of the city felt like a promise to me of new beginning, as I left my home to begin the next phase of my life. For that, I’ll always have a soft-spot for Halifax and its bands.

Re-Evalutated // Teenager

March 20th, 2015 | Features | 0 Comments

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In 2012, I boarded an Aerosvit flight to Tel Aviv with a stopover in Kiev. I had just said goodbye to my girlfriend of two years to go join the Israeli army, and we’d both agreed that last hug in the airport would mark the end of the relationship. I spent the next five hours listening to The Thrills‘ heartbreaking final album Teenager, crying my eyes out in-between two very confused Ukrainians.

The Thrills came out of the garage-rock revival of the early aughts. Of course, they were lumped in with all the other ‘The’ bands, even though they weren’t really much like any of them. But if The Strokes were the new Velvets and The White Stripes were the minimalist punk version of Led Zeppelin, The Thrills were the Irish Beach Boys of the scene. Their first album, 2003’s So Much For The City, was an ode to fun in the sun and the heartbreaking beauty of youth. Critics responded well to it and the album hit #1 in Ireland. Their second album, 2004’s  Let’s Bottle Bohemia, received a less enthusiastic critical reception but again made #1 in Ireland and even outdid its predecessor’s performance on the American Heatseakers and Billboard charts.

Then in 2007 the band released Teenager. Critics loved it the most of all three of the band’s albums, but commercially it performed worst by a considerable margin. I’m still not sure why. Teenager wasn’t a ‘difficult’ album. The songwriting, if anything, was stronger, poppier and more consistent than anything in the band’s oeuvre. Was it a marketing thing? Were people just too eager to find the newest, hottest bands to pay attention to a bunch of Irish dudes who released a song or two they liked in 2003? Whatever the case, Teenager‘s under-appreciation is tragic. It’s one of the most beautiful albums of the last decade and hands down the band’s best.

Ironically, considering the title, Teenager is about growing up and settling down. It’s about cherishing the memory of those fun times in the sun as they fade away in life’s rear view mirror. Maybe people just weren’t into that, the album’s of undercurrent of sadness, when they pressed play in 2007, but it was precisely what made Teenager so special, and I recognized it immediately. I guess Pet Sounds had the same problem with listeners in its time. But people appreciate Pet Sounds now; anyone who knows music knows that’s Brian Wilson‘s masterpiece. But nobody talks about Teenager, and that’s  shame. “This year could be our year,” sang frontman Conor Deasy on “This Year”, one of the album’s best tracks. Until Teenager gets the respect it deserves, every year could be The Thrills‘ year. And one of these years it will be.

Records From Canada // Firecracker/Cloudglow

February 23rd, 2015 | Features | 0 Comments

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Since moving to New York, I’ve become almost aggressively Canadian. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but America’s gross racial inequality, debates about stupid stuff like gay marriage, abortion or contraceptives, and everyone’s constantly complaining about the cold when there’s barely any snow on the ground will do that to a person. So yeah, as much as I love New York, I do miss Canada.

As is the case whenever you move from one place to another, you take some of your home with you and hope you can show the best of it to the new people you meet. You hope it’ll help you educate them of the world and culture you come from, that they’ll appreciate it, and maybe this will help them understand you a better. For this reason, I’m starting a new feature called Records From Canada targeted at those in my new place of residence, the US of A. The plan is to expose these Americans a bit more to the wonderful music of the great white North, that often gets overlooked this side of the border.

My first post is about an album I’ve loved for a long time, ever since it was sent to me in an email from the band itself: Cannon Bros‘ 2011 album Firecracker/Cloudglow.

Cannon Bros is a boy & girl guitar/drums duo from Winnipeg, Manitoba that plays very charming, disarmingly honest indie pop-rock. While others might not pick up on it, to me they sound very Canadian, so much so that when I served in the IDF I used to listen to them (and Snailhouse) when I felt nostalgic for home.

But Canadian-ness aside, Firecracker/Cloudglow is just a great and insanely catchy album from start to finish, that’s also fairly substantial on an emotional level. For example, when you listen to tracks like “Left In A Hurry” or “Let It Go”, you can tell that these are songs that come from a real place, and very likely real-life events.

I’ve contact them since I first heard the album and last I heard they’re working on a follow up. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.

Top Albums Of 2014: Honourable Mentions

December 27th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

Though I only wanted to pick a ‘top’ ten, there were a lot of cool albums released this year. Here are a couple more I enjoyed…

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Operators – EP1

At first I thought this was a little too clean and poppy for my liking, but after listening to it for a while I came around to it more. Now I think it’s one of the best things Dan Boekner‘s ever done (though, to be fair, everything he’s ever done is incredible). It sort of picks up where Handsome Furs and Divine Fits left off, except without Britt Daniel and no soviet vibe (which is kind of unfortunate; I really liked that vibe, but whatevs). Excited to hear what these guys do on a full-length.

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Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek

Really cool 90s indie vibe from this young NYC band.

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Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien

I know this is super un-indie but former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way‘s solo album is a actually very solid return to form. I was a fan of MCR until Danger Days let me down (hey, The Black Parade‘s actually a pretty deece album), so it was nice to give Hesitant Alien a cursory listen to find that Way still knows how to write a great pop-rock song. Also, Doug McKean‘s production gives everything a little much-needed room to breath after years of Way’s MCR songs being radio-formatted to death by the likes of Green Day producer Rob Cavallo.

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LVL UP – Hoodwink’d

Another solid 90s-loving NYC band who put out a great album this year on their own excellent label, Double Double Whammy (also home to Mitski and Frankie Cosmos).

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Posse – Soft Opening

Really enjoyable, chill album from this Seattle duo, with plenty of reference points from 80s and 90s indie homebodies like Galaxie 500 and Yo La Tengo.

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Vashti Bunyan – Heartleap

Abandoning the overwhelming quaintness of Lookaftering, Vashti Bunyan‘s latest (and hopefully not last) album is a quiet, naturalistic wonder, that feels amazingly relevant for an artist whose catalogue dates back to the mid 60s.

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The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave

If this had been the band’s first or second album, it would’ve been in my top ten of the year. The only issue I have with it is that it isn’t really anything new from a band that has otherwise been making subtle progressions from album to album. Instead, it’s more the In Rainbows-esque consolidation of all the experiments the band’s been making with each album until now, streamlining the harsh shoegazer guitars of Forget The Night Ahead and the daggery synths of No One Can Ever Know. The songwriting is as sharp as ever, with no shortage of the infectiously gloomy melodies and suggestive lyrics one would expect of the Scottish crew.

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Wish – S/T

Just a really cool album from Toronto record collector types.

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Kevin Drew – Darlings

The beloved BSS frontman’s second album isn’t the intimate epic his first album was, but rather, an epically intimate collection of small, beautiful synthy songs.

Top 10 Albums Of 2014: 5-1

December 16th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Yes, it took a bit more than a day for me to post the second part of this list. You can blame that on my studying for the civ pro exam I just completed: four intense hours that basically ruined me for the next twenty-four.

Since I can’t bring myself to get back to studying for my contracts exam right now, here’s part two of my favorite albums of the last year.

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5. Julia Brown – An Abundance Of Strawberries

If I were the king of reality, everyone would see mainstream pop artists as the vain, shallow posers they are and we’d all gawk at the brilliance of  Julia Brown, a crew of wonderful young music makers who put out this gorgeous album with no hype, no Pitchfork review; just a Dropbox link.

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4. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent

I’ve been listening to A Sunny Day In Glasgow for years and thought they’d keep putting out cool, dreamy albums until everyone just got tired of them. Then they decided to let Jeff Zeigler produce one of their albums and he apparently decided, “you know, it’d be really cool to turn up the low end on this and give it some oomf.” The result was, as Pitchfork accurately pointed out, the band’s best album and one of the best albums of the year.

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3. Nothing – Guilty Of Everything

Philly’s Nothing came out of nowhere (as far as I was concerned) to deliver the best shoegaze album of the year. It also holds the distinction of being perhaps the only shoegaze album to mine Slowdive‘s pretty, cavernous eeriness rather than My Bloody Valentine‘s wall of romantic noise.

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2. Spoon – They Want My Soul

If Transference was the all-over-the-place White Album following Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga‘s focused Sergeant Pepper-y genius, They Want My Soul is the Abbey Road return to form: 10 songs, more hooks than you could ever keep track of, and everything in its right place.

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1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

I take back what I said in the first half of this list about there not being any clear masterpieces this year.

I’m not really a fan of music that’s too ‘talky’ – and sometimes Sun Kil Moon walks that fine line pretty wobbly – but the purity and depth of feeling Mark Kozelek displays on Benji is so astounding and overpoweringly beautiful that I’m ready to forgive a lot. Being a big city Jewish kid from Toronto, Canada, I often can’t relate to the simplicity and earnestness of ‘real America’ and those who live there in my imagination: farmers, gas station attendants, waitresses, etc. But if one of those gas station attendants created a work of art that encapsulated the tragedy and wonder of ‘the life of man’ the way a Saul Bellow novel or Blood On The Tracks can, perhaps it would sound something like Benji. And it would touch my soul just as profoundly, regardless of our differences.